Giant Robo Vol. #1 (also w/Special Model Box) (of 3) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Wednesday, December 15, 2004
Release Date: Tuesday, December 07, 2004



What They Say
The Shizuma Drive has launched humanity into a golden age of prosperity. In the shadows, Big Fire, a secret brotherhood, adopts one goal: directing the world towards chaos! The Experts of Justice, a team of operatives, aim to stop this disaster. The key to saving the world is their brave new member, a boy named Daisaku Kusama, and the machine he commands...

The Review!
One of the biggest OVA series of the 90's finally makes its appearance on DVD. And depending on which version you bought, that may influence how you feel about the release overall.

Audio:
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese but in the 5.1 remix. The mix for this is pretty weak with not much really coming from the rear speakers and what is there is pretty low. After a bit of research it looks like none of the Japanese editions (including the just-released Premium edition release) contains a 5.1 mix at all, so this is probably either a mix that was never released in Japan or a custom made 5.1 mix by Media Blasters. Switching over to the Japanese 2.0 mix and you get a noticeably more full feeling mix, which is what we'll be listening to in the remaining volumes. During regular playback of both Japanese tracks, we had no issues with dropouts or distortions.

Video:
Originally starting its OVA release in Japan back in 1992 and taking quite a bit of time across the run of the series to complete, the show is presented here in its original full frame aspect ratio. More than likely the transfer here is based off of the Premium edition source materials but all I have to compare it with is the Giga Premium collection from a few years ago and the two look just beautiful. The transfer for this release is just clean and clear throughout with lush colors, great visible detail and essentially no problems that I could see. The openings and endings are all left intact with the full credits translation done as an additional chapter at the end of both episodes. With this being the first DVD release in region one, it's a winner with its visual quality.

Packaging:
For the purpose of this review, we're looking at what is referred to as the Special Model Box, Model Box, Limited Edition or one or two other variants of. This release does not contain any kind of keepcase with it. When this was announced, and no further information ever really came out on it after that other than the one picture, the way it was labeled as a special model box was intriguing. I figured that it was going to be similar to previous specialty boxes that Media Blasters had made that contained the keepcases inside it or that it really was a model and that the keepcase would come with it but not go inside of it. At the strangest, I figured that maybe there was a spindle inside and that we'd just put the discs there, but Media Blasters hadn't done a release yet that you had to throw away the keepcase and packaging with, so I figured I was safe.

Then the box came in. This is a really nice cardboard box that has the classic image of Vogler on the sides and the big Eye on the front. The back of it was like the back of a keepcase with the artwork and listings of the discs features and technical information. The box was also the first place that we learned that there was a second DVD included of just supplemental material, a disc available only with this box set. Taking the Eye out of the box, it felt very light and the plastic it was made of, where it's not secure in holding the two halves together, buckled a bit under the simple hand pressure of picking it up, causing the bottom half to fall back into the box. It was at this point that we learned that inside the box were the CD jewel cases that were going to hold all four volumes of the series. Even more of a surprise, only the first jewel case had cover art in it. And even then more of a problem, when the jewel cases are in the eye, they're not terribly secure and jiggle all about. There's nothing that's really latching them down in there.

And yes, on the petty scale in my mind, the jewel case is where the anti-theft tag is located. It's also just over enough so that if you try to actually OPEN your jewel case, it'll bend and crack off. Inside the jewel case, you've got the flippy hinge piece that has a DVD on each side. But this is the really cheap kind of case and there isn't any real mechanism for swinging it back and forth. I was only able to bend it up about 30% so I could slip the supplemental DVD from behind out to check it out. And once that was done, the content DVD no longer snaps into place in the front as there's no pressure there to hold it in place. So that DVD now swims free.

Looking at it a week or so after getting it, I'm still of two minds about it. If the Eye had been what was implied, a model/kit of some sort as opposed to the actual holder, I would have been pretty well pleased even if feeling that it was a bit cheap in the materials. But then since it wouldn't be holding the DVDs it would be expected that it wouldn't split in half or at least have some sort of latch to hold it closed. Looking at it as it is, I probably wouldn't have spent the extra $50 retail for it over the DVD by itself release. Of course, at that point I'd then be completely upset that there wasn't any mention of the supplemental DVD and "over two hours" of additional content in terms of extras. Between the delays, the lack of actual information regarding the set and then the overall cheap feeling nature of it, I think a sizeable amount of trust was removed from this release when looking at future Media Blasters releases. I can't believe that I have jewel cases for brand new releases in 2004. All it means is that I'll pick up some double keepcases that are single sized and place them inside my region 2 boxset and keep all my Giant Robo together safe and sound. As for the Eye itself? I think I'll use that to hand out Halloween candy next year as a bowl.

Menu:
The menu layout is really nicely done by providing a faux letterbox image in the center where it plays footage from the show in black and white with some of the minor newsreel kind of effects added to it. The top and bottom provide the usual bits such as the logo and various selections, all set to some of the choral music from the show. With its black and white look it gives the animation an interesting feel and almost a nod towards the old live action show. Access times are nice and fast and the menus load quickly. Due to the arrangement of the audio and subtitle tracks, the disc did not correctly read our players' language presets.

Extras:
On the first volume of this release, there are a couple of fantastic extras included. The first is the Japanese commentary track which is done by the voice actress for Ginrei, Shimamoto Sumi and the voice actor for Daisaku, Yamaguchi Kappei. These two had just managed to see the show recent, Shimamoto just the day before the recording in a marathon session, and the series seems to really have brought back a lot of memories for them. It'd been so long since working on it that they both expressed surprise at being called up to provide a commentary track for it. While it isn't as deep as something that a screenwriter or a director would do, the pair provide a lot of amusing anecdotes about the production, what they were told the creators were going for and other bits of trivia that make this a highly enjoyable track.

A brief still gallery is also included with some good looking pieces of full color artwork and design. The last extra on the first volume is the inclusion of the original English language dub done many years ago. While this is really campy at times and diverges hugely in a number of ways, it was one of those early dubs where you could hear the cast really getting into their roles and giving a great performance. While I'm happy that the series has a newer and more accurate dub, I'm extremely happy that the original one has been saved and released here, much as it was on the Japanese Giga release.

Did you know that the model box edition comes with a second disc of extras? Of course you don't since it was never mentioned anywhere that we can find, including Media Blaster's own listings. The extras disc here has a sizeable number of pieces. There's some TV spots and trailers for the Giant Robo show itself as well as TV spots for the Ginrei release. A couple of video game trailers are included as well as the "movie" version alternate openings for the series. There's also ten minutes worth of Japanese dubbing to animation broken into four segments that's interesting as they show some of the rough pencil sketches done as animation. The last inclusion is four segments done with the Warsaw Philharmonic for individual episodes music and it goes into the performances, segments about getting there and more. Due to the way Media Blasters authors their discs, I can't tell just how much time is spent on all the extras since it jumps around on the counter, but the back cover says the running time of this second disc is 161 minutes, or two hours and forty minutes. I'd give them the benefit of the doubt on it if their running times for extras weren't so off in the past but I'm not going to nitpick it completely. The biggest disappointment here is that people never knew that there was going to be all of these extras available in the set.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Back when Giant Robo was first released on VHS, it was one of those big title that cause a significant splash in the market because it wasn't all that far behind from the Japanese and it was one of the pinnacles of where OVA animation was at that time. In addition, the dub that was used back then for it was, while technically inaccurate at many times and suffered from some strange rewrites, was to many much better acted than the bulk of what was out there then that it helped push into the mainstream further than a lot of other titles. A great number of people saw the first episode of the series but there was a continual drop-off as it went along for a number of reasons.

The story is one of a fun science fiction orientation. In the mid 21st century, the world is undergoing a renaissance of sorts. Ten years prior, in the search for a new kind of renewable energy, a massive experiment went awry in the country of Bashtarle. The five scientists working on the project came to odds over how to proceed and one of them opted to go forward and raced into the project. The result was what was later called the Tragedy of Bashtarle, where the experiment essentially imploded on itself and the country itself was completely obliterated. As bad as that was, the after effects blanketed the world in darkness and nearly two-thirds of the worlds population died during the seven days of insanity that followed.

But out of such tragedy came something that held promise. The remaining four scientists were able to perfect their project not long thereafter and the creation of the Shizuma Drive, named for the lead professor, was born. This container of renewable and recyclable energy became the impetus for every change in the world, with its uses being from airplanes and cars down to your simple cigarette lighter. Everything used it. The need for oil fell to the side and the dangers of nuclear power became a relic of the past as those shut down as well. The world rebuilt and tried to erase the Tragedy of Bashtarle from its collective mind as well as from the history books itself.

But even in an era like this there are people who want to control things overtly and not just from behind the scenes. The Big Fire group is a mysterious organization that uses the Shizuma Drive to power its massive battle robots of all shapes and models in their quest for just such domination. With the help of the Magnificent Ten, an elite group of powerful villainous types, they strike across the world to further their goals. Naturally, they face opposition from a group called the Experts of Justice, an organization similar in setup but without that entire domination aspect. The good guys have fewer robots themselves but they have some very powerful people on their side to fight with them. They also happen to have the most powerful robot in the world, Giant Robo, a device left to twelve-year old Daisaku by his father as he died.

The setup of this world, which is told across the first couple of episodes, provides a fascinating and colorful new world to deal with. One of the keys to it though is that the Big Fire group this time has a much grander plan on the table than they've had before. Whether through illusion or truth, the professor behind the Tragedy of Bashtarle appears to be alive, Franken Von Vogler, and is attempting to recreate that incident again but this time to truly plunge the world into night as they have not learned from their mistakes as he tells it. Three of the crucial samples needed to create the incident are out there and the professors that worked with Vogler are slowly being killed and strung up in the Notre Dame tower, the place where those seeking to orchestrate this new tragedy have started their plans, having sent Paris into darkness already.

Within this world, the characters are done as stylized variations of older giant robot series to some extent but with updated clean looks to them. What was done back in the past has many elements that are used in today's shows so that even though there's a bridge to the past with these designs, they look like a lot of other more recent shows as well which shows their timelessness. It's worldly bunch of characters, such as the Frenchman with his couple of curls and bright purple jacket to young Daisaku with his little boy shorts and suit jacket. Ginrei is one of the biggest stars of the show with her ample assets and tight fitting Chinese outfit. The villains make out well in their own way, with that nasty 60's style applied to them in their manners and designs.

Back during its original US run, I was one of the people that loved the first volume and ended up falling out of after the second volume and this release reminded me why. With the second episode, nearly the first ten minutes of it recap the first episode, which itself ran just about fifty-five minutes. Nearly twenty percent of the first episode is recycled into the second episode, though the second does run longer than an average TV or OVA episode length. But the feeling I had gotten then, which I got again in watching this, was the distaste for such heavy repetition. Brief recaps are one thing but a ten minute recap is something that told me to spend my money elsewhere back then, which resulted in my never seeing past episode two until I bought the Japanese DVD release set.

In Summary:
In terms of the show itself, this is a good bit of fun and there's a great epic feel to it and a level of operatic drama applied in how it's presented. The characters are instantly identifiable archetypes that are well clothed and very easy to root for, both good and bad. For those who have a serious affection for the old style robots and some of the camp in their designs, you already know about this show and it is definitely one of the real classics of the genre. It's so richly detailed and animated that you wish more of them could have been like that. There's a real love and sense of care applied to the production here that managed to carry it through the thick and thin of its production schedule.

In terms of which version to buy, I'll let my words and pictures speak for themselves since it's a choice people need to make on their own. The expensive edition is something that I'm really conflicted over as there are things I like and things I don't like about it as well as how the entire release itself has been handled. I think that in the end more than anything else is what has fueled my distaste for that edition. With so little information about what was actually in this release, from the original dub, the second DVD of extras and the how the model was being handled, this was a release where the consumer loses out in not knowing what they're getting until after all is said and done. For the $74.95 list price for the model edition, that's just not right.

Features
Japanese 5.1 Language,Japanese 2.0 Language,English 5.1 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Original English 2.0 Dub,Japanese 2.0 Commentary Track,Still Gallery,Model Edition contains 2nd DVD of extras

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Zenith DVB-318 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player via DVI with upconversion set to 720p, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.



Mania Grade: B+
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: A
Packaging Rating: C/F
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: A+
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Media Blasters
MSRP: 24.95/74.95
Running time: 100/161
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Giant Robo